Promoting Student Engagement: Utilizing Student Exploration as a Means of Information Synthesis


At Appalachian State University (ASU), Mr. Jeff Goodman uses a model known as the 5E Instructional Model to introduce scientific concepts to his students. This model helps frame instructional practices for teaching course content in the following sequence: engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration, and evaluation.

BSCS 5E Instructional Model

He describes his rationale in using the method:

In terms of outcomes, I want my students to be people who are more curious than they were at the beginning, who think that the content that I thought is inherently fun and accessible, that they can hold onto and know at some level.

Mr. Goodman has been ASU for 20 years, and is currently teaching in the College of Education. He took one year to teach high school, and spends one day a week in his wife’s middle school classroom “trying to see if this stuff actually pans out – and it’s hard!”

UDL Alignment

Each College STAR module will explain how a particular instructional practice described within the module aligns with one or more of the principles of UDL. For this module, the focus will be on Provide Multiple Means of Engagement, Principle III.

Module Alignment with Provide Multiple Means of Engagement

Mr. Goodman uses fantasy to illustrate physics concepts to his students. He actively engages students in a fictional story and has them contribute to the process and outcome of the story, which integrates the physics principals in the curriculum. In his practice, Mr. Goodman utilizes the BSCS 5E instructional model which offers students opportunities to abstract and elaborate the principal from the fantasy story, into a real application. This type of student engagement offers opportunities to the students to truly synthesize the information from an engaging story, into the real life application and useful knowledge.

Instructional Practice

The first two stages (engagement exploration) of the 5E Instructional Model are exemplified in the previous module, Cultivating Learner Attention and Engagement. Mr. Goodman initially engaged his students by promoting their interest in a law of physics through situational factors such as humor and fantasy with the Kingdom of Light story. He then enabled them to explore that law of physics by manipulating lasers and mirrors, encouraging them to solve a problem from that story.

From Concrete Demonstration to Abstraction

Since the Kingdom has been set right again, Mr. Goodman asks his class to then help the princess write an article or draw a diagram, (whichever choice is more meaningful to them,) for the fictional kingdom’s newspaper about how she escaped from the dungeon. Mr. Goodman has students write about what the scientific principle is and how it behaves so that the light reflects off of a mirror and the Princess escapes. This activity embodies the explanation phase of the 5E model.

Mr. Goodman’s visual representation of the principal of laser reflection.

Figure 1: Mr. Goodman’s visual representation of the principal of laser reflection.

After the students have articulated the scientific definition of light refraction in a way that is meaningful to them, through a drawing or worded summary, Mr. Goodman enters the elaboration phase where he asks them to re-apply the principle to a new physical task. He explains:

We started with a physical task, we developed an idea, then we encoded it in a written piece or maybe a diagram, we tried it out, and then I keep doing things to see if they’re thinking it all the way through. I take a piece of mirror and I hold it so that they can’t see it, and I say, ‘I’m going to flip this around. What will you see?’ and everyone makes a prediction. We’re using the abstraction for a new task. Then I’ll have them re-apply it to another new task, like how light refracts in water—a new medium.

Student observing refraction when a pen is in water.

Figure 2: Student observing refraction when a pen is in water.

Mr. Goodman gives students multiple ways to test the principle of refraction for themselves though another hands-on demonstration and offers access to diagrams and photographs. Through this new medium, students’ understanding of the law of refraction is not only challenged, but reinforced and supported by further connection to the physical world. Mr. Goodman describes his practice:

I want them to be able to take an idea and apply it to a new situation so it’s not just, ‘Whenever you have a princess and a rat and a vat of acid, the best thing to do is…’—but I want to see that they own the material because I can see that they’ve taken it and applied it to something new rather than just staying with the story that I put out there. I try hard to set up opportunities for them to do that, for them to produce things. I hate teaching something if they feel like they can’t use it.

Mr. Goodman demonstrating the principal of refraction on the board.

Figure 3: Mr. Goodman demonstrating the principal of refraction on the board.


In summary, providing various resources and challenges not only continues to capture attention, but also stimulates learner concentration and effort. The evaluation phase is continual and expansive beyond the classroom, and Mr. Goodman explains how the strategy behind this lesson is a part of his larger pedagogy of teaching:

If you follow that pattern, there’s an engagement (the story), there’s an exploration (manipulating the lasers and mirrors), there’s an explanation that we work on together (name the principle and definition), and then we try it out and expand it. All along, I’m evaluating. In everything I do, I have this idea, which is to engage people, to get them to want to solve a problem, to let them mess with real materials, to develop an abstraction, to try the abstraction on something new, and to evaluate how that’s all working the whole time.

Mr. Goodman’s application of the 5E Model in his classroom exemplifies the UDL principal to provide multiple means of engagement. Mr. Goodman asks his students to express a physics principal which contributes to synthesis of knowledge. Through elaboration, Mr. Goodman facilitates abstraction of a principal, then application of the principal, which lead to student’s complete understanding and knowledge. By using the 5E Model, Mr. Goodman engages his students through different activities and provides multiple paths for successful learning.

Learn More

Literature Base

Editor’s Note: The Literature Base section of each College STAR module provides a brief summary of support for the Instructional Practice in the module. This is not an exhaustive literature review. It is designed to give the viewer an introduction to the literature about the module Instructional Practice. Please consider using the Learn More section of the module to supplement the information you obtain through this Literature Base summary.

The BSCS 5E Instructional Model serves the purpose of aiding students in their formulation of scientific concepts and consists of the following phases: engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration, and evaluation. The model walks learners through a sequential process. At first, by engaging their prior knowledge, students become curious. They are then led to experience the subject matter hands-on, through which they generate their own personally meaningful explanation of that experience, and apply that in a new scenario. Finally, students are encouraged to self and peer evaluate while simultaneously being evaluated by the instructor for learning and class goals (Bybee et al., 2006).

One definition of student engagement is “participation in educationally effective practices, both inside and outside the classroom, which leads to a range of measurable outcomes” (Harper & Quaye, 2009, p. 2).

The efficacy of this strategy can be further understood by exploring a theory of Lev Vygotsky’s, an early 20th century developmental psychologist. He defined a learner’s zone of proximal development as the difference between what a learner can accomplish independently and with developmentally appropriate scaffolding. He suggested that since different learners will require different levels and amounts of support, they should work together on tasks in an effort to amplify the learning process and foster higher-level thinking (Vygotsky, 1962, 1978).

One way to accommodate the variety of learning styles and need for different learning supports of today’s learners is to facilitate group or partner work on substantive tasks in the classroom. Additionally, these activities should have correlates to real-world situations outside the classroom. Research has tied higher education academic performance and satisfaction closely with involvement with faculty and peers around such tasks that promote higher-order thinking (Light, 1992).

References & Resources

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About the Author

Jeff Goodman

Jeff Goodman

Curriculum & Instruction
Appalachian State University